Coopers, the Bible Society, and what Christians don’t seem to understand about same-sex marriage “debate”

Like many others I watched the publicity train wreck that was the Coopers-Bible Society collaboration with astonishment. In a number of fora I’ve heard Christians lamenting that they are not able to have a “civil discussion” on same-sex marriage and that this represents the silencing of the church in public debate.

They’re right on one thing. Many in our society are not interested in a “civil discussion” on same-sex marriage, but it’s not because they hate Christians or despise religion. It’s because they see same-sex marriage as a human rights issue.

We are the heirs of both the Reformation and the Enlightenment. These placed the individual front and centre, asserted the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, and demanded that the final arbiter in matters of faith and ethics be the conscience of the individual rather than the dictates of the state or church. And so we got statements like that in the US declaration of Independence

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

It’s taken quite a few hundred years for us to work this through, to figure out that “all men” included slaves, women, children, and people of different races. In the last couple of decades we have seen the extension of the notion of equality and freedom to those whose sexuality and gender identity are not heterosexual.

The test of whether a person enjoys genuine equality and freedom is not to point to all the privileges they currently enjoy, but that they are free to access the same privileges as any other person. This explains why same-sex marriage is such a touchtone issue.

This is why Christians are being dismissed, often contemptuously, when they raise the issue of same-sex marriage. To argue that gay couples should be excluded from marriage is seen as the equivalent of arguing that black people should be excluded from marriage. We can scream til we’re blue in the face that the two cases are not equivalent, but no matter how loudly we might protest, it all sounds like special pleading. To the modern ear the “equal but different” line has no more resonance when applied to sexuality than it did when applied to discrimination based upon gender, culture, or race.

What’s more, people perceive that opposition to same-sex marriage is held on religious grounds. Yes, Christians seek to frame their opposition in terms of arguments for the “common good”, but the fact that opposition to same-sex marriage is being argued almost exclusively by religious groups is a pretty strong indication where the true source of opposition lies. So not only is the church perceived to be arguing for the denial of human rights to one group in society, it is seen to be doing so on purely religious grounds, dragging us back into the premodern era in which dogma was imposed.

People are not demanding that the church be silenced. We live in a society where we are free to practice our faith; where substantial numbers of our political, corporate and civil society leaders are people of faith; and where the non-Christian parents of my son’s friends enjoy the fact that their kids enjoy youth group. When Christians speak up in defence of the vulnerable, the weak and the oppressed, no one is seeking to silence them. What our community is telling us is if you stand against civil and human rights for people they love and value you will not be invited to the table to civilly discuss it; you will be treated with the contempt that you deserve.

Why you should ask your pastor to stop preaching sermons against same-sex marriage

I recently spent time with a friend who is a pastor. He was in the middle of a sermon series on contemporary issues and the topic for the following week was same-sex marriage. He held to a fairly stock-standard conservative evangelical approach and it was clear that his congregation expected him to articulate it.

I suggested that when he preached the sermon his target shouldn’t be the 55 year old man or woman who wanted to hear a strong condemnation of same-sex marriage, but the 15 year old kid who is homosexually oriented but terrified of coming out.

Suicide rates among gay youth are many multiples higher than among their straight counterparts. The key factors are the inability to accept oneself and the absence of supportive and caring community.1)Gabs Rosnestreich, “LGBTI People, Mental Health & Suicide” (National LGBTI Health Alliance, 2011) Despite their rhetoric of love and welcome, most of our churches are places that are anything but supportive and caring communities for people whose sexuality doesn’t fit a heterosexual norm. The 15 year old who’s grown up in the evangelical wing of the church has spent his entire life in a faith community where it is assumed that heterosexual orientation is the God given norm for sexuality; where almost every discussion of homosexuality will have focussed on what’s wrong with homosexuals; where the “gay lobby” is fiercely denounced; and where friends and parents and other adults make derogatory comments about homosexuals without censure from their peers. There’s a good chance that that 15 year old has internalised all these messages, wakes up every morning convinced God hates him, and is terrified of rejection if his true self is known. I know this because over the last few years I have become friends with a number of gay Christians and this is the story so many of them share.

Others have found the same. In 2013 Nigel Chapman, who was part of a Baptist church in Surry Hills, Sydney, that established strong relationships with the local gay community, wrote that

The lasting impression gained by listening to the experience of same-sex attracted Christians and community members is that a same-sex attracted person who grows up in one of our churches experiences alienation and fear, expects to be stigmatised and misunderstood, and is given every motivation to stay silent about this issue.2)Chapman, “Evangelical Churches & Same Sex Attraction”, 2013. http://chapman.id.au/files/EvangelicalChurchesAndSameSexOrientation.pdf

It’s backed up by research. A 2010 study3)Lynne Hillier, Tiffany Jones, Marisa Monagle, Naomi Overton, Luke Gahan, Jennifer Blackman, Anne Mitchell, “Writing Themselves in 3. The third national study on the sexual health and wellbeing of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people.” by LA Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society found that compared to other same-sex attracted youth, religious same-sex attracted young people were:

  • More likely to feel bad about their same sex attraction.
  • More likely to have experienced social exclusion or had to tolerate homophobic language from friends.
  • More likely to report homophobic abuse in the home.
  • More likely to report feeling unsafe at home.
  • More likely to not be supported by their mother, father, brother, teacher or student welfare coordinator/counsellor, when disclosing their SSA.
  • More likely to report thoughts of self harm and suicide or to carry out self harm.

As a member of the church this makes me weep. Surely something has gone horribly and tragically wrong when being part of a church means gay, lesbian, bisexual,  transsexual and intersex young people are more likely to suffer social exclusion, feel unsafe, not be supported, to report thoughts of self-harm and to carry out self-harm.

We’ve been so eager to remove the splinter from the eye of our gay, lesbian and bisexual brothers and sisters. Perhaps it’s time to take Jesus’s advice and start removing the logs from our own.

I believe we must begin with a period of introspection and repentance. Let’s put an end to all the sermons denouncing same-sex marriage as though this is the key issue for the church on sexuality. The key issue for the churches is surely our failure to be places of grace and safety for LGBTIQ people.

Human understanding of sexuality and gender has progressed rapidly in recent years. For example, it is now widely accepted that people do not choose their sexual orientation but that it is fixed and given for most of us by the time we reach adolescence. We have learned that the variations within sexualities are far more nuanced and complex than we previously thought. We have learned that people whose sexuality does not fit a heterosexual norm are not perverted or deviant in character, but beautiful creatures made in the image and likeness of their Creator.

Yet our churches remain repositories of bigotry and ignorance.  In our efforts to defend a traditional sexuality we have failed to subject that sexuality to the blowtorch of critical reflection. It beggars belief that views that came to us from a time when there was widespread ignorance about sexuality, when sexually different people were thought to be morally deviant, and when violence was perpetrated against them in the name of Christ, do not need changing. Whatever we may end up retaining from a traditional sexuality, we must recognise that there is much in the traditional sexuality we inherited that is not pure nor Christ-like.

We must come to grips with the fact that our churches are toxic, life destroying environments to LGBTIQ people, even when it is not overtly spoken out. I was at an event last night in which a transgender person described the opprobrium that has been thrown at her by members of her church. She concluded by saying:

In the end it wasn’t harassment that made me leave . It was quiet, peaceful, passive rejection.

Those of us who are heterosexual must stop doing all the talking and start listening to the stories, experiences and insights of LGBTIQ Christians and then having listened, consider afresh what God might be saying to us and the way God might be leading us.

 

 

References   [ + ]

1.Gabs Rosnestreich, “LGBTI People, Mental Health & Suicide” (National LGBTI Health Alliance, 2011
2.Chapman, “Evangelical Churches & Same Sex Attraction”, 2013. http://chapman.id.au/files/EvangelicalChurchesAndSameSexOrientation.pdf
3.Lynne Hillier, Tiffany Jones, Marisa Monagle, Naomi Overton, Luke Gahan, Jennifer Blackman, Anne Mitchell, “Writing Themselves in 3. The third national study on the sexual health and wellbeing of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people.”

Challenges for the Church #3. Homosexuality

The week before Christmas I purchased Two Views On Homosexuality, The Bible And The Church (Zondervan, 2016), a book that brings together four authors who discuss the place of homosexuality in the church. The editor, Preston Sprinkle, notes that

This book is the first of its kind to be published by an evangelical Christian publisher. I don’t think a book like this would have been possible ten or even five years ago. Until recently, there was only one view of homosexuality within evangelicalism: the so-called non-affirming view. Conservatives may protest or simply disagree, but the fact is that there are a growing number of Bible-believing, gospel-preaching, card-carrying evangelicals who are either exploring the affirming view or who have embraced it and aren’t looking back… No longer is this a Christian versus non-Christian debate. The debate about homosexuality, the Bible, and the church is currently an inner-Christian discussion, even if some may think there is only one true Christian view. Christians can no longer hide behind what the Bible says; we now must do the hard work of figuring out what the Bible means.

It’s not simply that a “progressive” view has emerged within the Evangelical world. There have also been significant changes among “conservatives”. Until very recently the dominant approach within both society and church was that homosexual intercourse was abhorrent and that homosexual attraction was something chosen/cultivated by a person of morally degraded character. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people were regarded with suspicion, called to repent of their sin and to seek help to end their homoerotic feelings.

Few conservative leaders speak this way anymore. The deviancy model has been replaced with a brokenness approach, in which homosexual attraction is not the result of disordered character but a disordered creation. It is recognised that, for most people, sexual orientation is something that is discovered rather than chosen, and that it is fixed. Orientation is no longer a cause of blame, but a condition with which people live. Nonetheless for those who are LGB it remains a disordered condition that falls short of God’s intention for human sexuality. They should therefore seek to live a celibate life. The church, for its part, should stop shaming those with LGB orientation and welcome them as members of the people of God.

For a small but increasing number within Evangelicalism the brokenness model has proven inadequate. They challenge the assertion that Genesis roots sexuality in the complementarity of male and female, and point to the contrast between homosexual practice in the eras of the Bible and homosexual partnerships today to argue that to faithfully live the values of the biblical story means affirming committed LGB partnerships in the same way that we affirm those of heterosexual couples.

It seems the debate has progressed more quickly in US and European evangelical circles than it has in Australia, but I think there are signs the Australian churches are rapidly approaching some kind of tipping point on the issue. Change is often described using the diagram below. On any given issue that gains traction in society there are innovators and early adopters who start articulating an alternative approach. They are initially dismissed, but the point is reached in which the new approach starts to gain traction and people start to come on board until a new consensus is formed. Finally there are a group of people who never embrace the new consensus, but remain committed to the older approach. [**Added 4/1/17  There is of course nothing inevitable about this process.  On any given  issue it may be that  the arguments of innovators and early adopters  are not taken up,  that the early majority turns out to be an early minority, or  that  a “late majority” never develops.**]

I suspect we are seeing the signs of a shift from the innovator and early adopter phase to the early majority phase. First, a small but growing number of prominent evangelicals are voicing support for the full inclusion of same-sex couples in the church. These include Tony Campolo, social activist Steve Chalke, ethicist David Gushee, philosopher Nicholas Woltersdorff, the former long-time editor-in-chief of Christianity Today David Neff, bible scholar James Brownson, and prominent evangelical commentator Jen Hatmaker. These voices are significant for they belong to leaders who have been widely respected within the mainstream of Evangelicalism.

Second, as LGB couples are now welcomed and accepted in our society, more and more Christians have family and friends who openly identify as LGB. Straight Christians interact with LGB couples who are generous, loving, kind and faithful and find it difficult to believe that this represents disorder. They face a clash between their experience of life and what they are taught is biblical truth. This is particularly the case for the younger generations. I have met many young adults who live with a sense of disillusionment and disappointment with the church’s attitude towards their LGB friends that is leading many of them to walk away from the church.

Within the church the shift from innovator/early adopter to early majority is usually accompanied by fierce debate. I like fierce debate, because it indicates that we care about the issue, but unfortunately we often allow care for the issue to negate our care for one another. Our debates become bruising, angry and graceless. Those who oppose the new approaches begin by declaring that the Bible is clear, that this is a matter of simple biblical authority, and that should we capitulate the very future of Christianity is jeopardized. On the other hand, those advocating change have a tendency to denounce those who oppose them as Pharisees whose legalism renders them unable to love. We fight as if it is a fight to the death but a decade later the church is still here, the sky hasn’t fallen in, the warring sides have made peace with one another, and we learn to respectfully disagree.

I hope and pray that this time we might do it differently than we have in the past. First, we should all be able to agree that the “deviance” model that has historically governed Christian and societal responses to LGB oriented people was dishonouring to God and damaging to LGB people. In the name of Christ we treated LGB oriented people with disdain, rejected them, and left them dripping in a shame that fuelled self-hatred and high rates of suicide, drove them out of the church or forced them into fearful hiding, and created an environment in which violence against LGB people was justified. This is something for which we need to unreservedly apologise and repent.

Second, we need to create forums in which we can consider the issue. We need to take time to hear the arguments put by scholars on all sides of the debate, to listen with empathy to the experiences of LGB oriented Christians, and to consider what God is calling us to.

Third, as we explore this issue we should love one another. Loving one another means treating those who disagree with us in the way we would like to be treated by them. How do I want be treated by others? Instead of casting aspersions upon my commitment to God, to Scripture and to love, I want them to listen to me, to understand what I am saying and why, to listen not only to my arguments but to my feelings and concerns. I want them to consider that they may be wrong, to carefully weigh my arguments in light of Scripture. If this is how I want others to treat me I must be willing to do the same with them.

Fourth, we need to remember that there are people in our churches, our families, and our networks who are LGB oriented. Some of them will be out, others will not. How we speak and what we say can either wound them or bring hope and grace. Let us make sure it is the latter.

I don’t know whether we’ll reach tipping point this year or not, but it is surely coming. Maybe, just maybe, we can negotiate the difficult discussions ahead with honour and grace.

Same-sex marriage and religious freedom.

In an article published on the Moore College website Tony Payne argues that this election is different from any other in that the legalisation of same-sex marriage will threaten the freedom of Christians to proclaim the gospel. He does so with some humility, recognising that he may well be overstating the threat.

I think he most surely is. As I understand it, there are two sets of laws under which constraints could be placed upon Christian gospel proclamation: anti-discrimination laws (from which churches and other religious Organisations currently have exemptions) and laws on vilification. Neither of these will be affected by the legalising of same-sex marriage. It is already illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation and likewise it is illegal to incite hated or violence against others.

The push to recognise SSM reflects a changing societal attitude towards gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Where just two generations back same-sex relationships were criminalised and same-sex orientation was seen as a pathology, today same-sex orientation is considered a morally neutral variety of human sexuality and same-sex partnerships are celebrated as a way in which same-sex oriented people may find fulfilment.

In this context it is not surprising that Christians with a conservative view of sexuality will experience opposition and even hostility. The arguments against same-sex partnerships and for the freedom to discriminate against those in such relationships are increasingly seen as on a par with arguments for discrimination based on race and gender. We should not be surprised at pressure to remove or modify the current exemptions to the anti-discrimination act that are enjoyed by churches and other religious organisations.

As a society we will need to negotiate once more how to balance freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination. How do we preserve freedom of the religious conscience when it holds to things that are offensive to the conscience of most people in the community? How do we protect people from unfair discrimination when religious conscience demands what to many appears entirely unreasonable? This will be a difficult discussion and the more-so for churches as in the past we have been in a dominant position in society during such dialogues. In the argy-bargy of sorting this through there will inevitably be overreach on all sides. We will need grace, wisdom, generosity and a willingness to apply Jesus’s instruction that we remove the logs in our own eyes.

But none of this will be happening because of same-sex marriage. It will be happening because we live in a society that has rejected the notion that same-sex orientation is pathological and that same-sex partnerships are perverted.

Why Same Sex Marriage is Not the Issue

As we approach the federal election many Christians are declaring same-sex marriage is one of the key issues. Claims have been made that children will miss out on the right to have a father and a mother, which will harm their emotional and social development; that the institution of marriage will be irreparably damaged as it is reduced from a bond providing for the bearing and raising of children to a romantic relationship between two adults; and that  Christians will lose their freedom to oppose homosexual partnerships.

If all this is true we should be concerned. The problem is, it’s not.

Same-sex couples already live in marriage-like relationships 

I have two gay friends who have been in a committed marriage-like relationship for 25 years. They are just one of many same-sex couples who have been living, working, socialising, and participating in our communities for a long, long time. They do everything a married couple do  – live together, take holidays together, go out with other couples both gay and straight, provide each other with love, companionship and support. They have a deep commitment to share their lives together, remain faithful to one another and support each other until death parts them. To all intents and purposes they are married, except their relationship is not recognised as marriage.

Legally, they have almost all the same rights as married couples. In 2008 the Federal Government

amended a total of 84 Commonwealth acts to remove differential treatment of same-sex couples and their children in the areas of tax, superannuation, PBS and Medicare safety nets, aged care, veterans’ entitlements, immigration, evidence, child support, social security, workers compensation entitlements and family law….As a result of that legislation, same-sex de facto couples in Australia have the same family law rights as opposite sex de facto couples, provided the relationship broke down after 1 March 2009. The new legislation covering de facto couples largely mirrors the legislation applicable to married couples. On the case law to date there does not seem to be any difference in approach between the law for married persons and those in a de facto relationship.
(http://www.swaab.com.au/Expertise/Family-Law/Useful-Information/Why-can-t-same-sex-couples-in-Australia-get-ma)

Same-sex marriage will not mean a sudden rush of  gay people start entering lifelong unions. They are already doing this. Nor will same-sex marriage invest gay couples with a wide-ranging raft of rights from which they are currently excluded. Gay couples already possess almost all the same rights  as married people. The material difference same-sex marriage will make to the systems of society will therefore be almost nil. The significance rather will be in the hearts and minds of gay couples as they are finally able to participate in the dominant social ritual for expressing and cementing one’s commitment to a life partner.

Same-sex couples already raise children

The Australian Marriage Forum (australianmarriage.org) have “Think of the children” as their tag line. They argue that recognising same-sex marriage will deny children the right to know both their father and mother and the benefits that derive from having both male and female presence in their life. This argument might be worth debating if we lived in a society where marriage and childrearing were strongly linked. That was the case in 1951 when barely 4% of births occurred outside marriage and they were seen as scandalous. Today over 1/3 of all children born in Australia were to unwed mothers and they are celebrated (https://aifs.gov.au/facts-and-figures/births-australia). Recognising or not recognising same-sex marriage will have absolutely no impact on whether or not same-sex couples have children and raise them. Same-sex couples already have biological and adoptive children and will continue to do so whether or not same-sex marriage is recognised.

To recognise same-sex marriages does not substantially alter the meaning of marriage

Opponents of same sex marriage often argue that marriage has always been closely bound up with having and raising children, rather than being focussed on the relationship between the married partners. This was certainly true in the ancient world and was a commonly held position right up until the Reformation. Yet from the Reformation through to the start of the 20th century the notion that procreation was an indispensable dimension of sexual and marital union was abandoned by both the Protestant Church and western society. Certainly theologians and clergy assumed there was a connection between marriage and family, that marriages formed the basic social unit into which children would be born, but the Reformation and the period after it rejected the theology of the pre-Reformation church that saw marital union and procreation as essential to the meaning of marriage.

The Marriage Act came into being in 1961 and did not define the relationship in terms of producing children but in terms of the union of the two parties. It was understood to refer to the lifelong marriage of a male and a female to the exclusion of all others (http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22library%2Fprspub%2F1409734%22).

Opponents of same-sex marriage often add the argument that the state regulates the marriage relationship only because its has an interest in the protection of children. This is simply not the case. The State regulates marriage because it is a legally binding agreement in which parties assume serious obligations to one anther  such as shared ownership of property and guardianship rights over each other when one party becomes mentally  incompetent to care for themselves.

Marriage in a liberal democracy

The arguments against same-sex marriage fail. It seems to me the driving force behind opposition to same-sex marriage is the conviction that God prohibits same-sex unions. For some that is sufficient reason in and of itself to oppose same-sex marriage. For others the argument gets taken one step further, that it is in the interests of all people and of our society to live the way God desires. That may very well be the case, but we do not live in a Christian theocracy where priests interpret the divine law to political leaders who then legislate the divine will. We live in a liberal democracy and a pluralist one at that. In such a polity it makes absolute sense for the State to recognise same-sex marriages, for they represent a logical extension of the notion of marriage as a lifelong union between two people to the exclusion all others.

At the same time liberal democracy demands freedom of religion. Those churches who believe that same-sex partnerships don’t enjoy the blessing of God should be free to maintain and promulgate that belief, even if others find it offensive. It is important that we do not replace liberalism with a bland secularism that is every bit as authoritarian  as the Christendom it has replaced.

The real threat to marriage

For all the reasons stated above  I don’t think that the recognition of same-sex marriages is a threat to marriage  nor that it signals the death of our culture. It seems to me that the real threat to  marriage is the acceptance of serial monogamy and the rise of a narcissism that prioritises the pursuit of personal satisfaction over one’s obligations to others.  It is here that the church has  something very positive and important to add to our society.

Even if you reject my arguments about same-sex marriage it seems to me a strategic blunder of the worst kind that the churches are putting so much effort into opposing same-sex marriage. The direction of history is quite clearly turned towards the recognition and celebration of same-sex marriage.I do not understand why we’re putting so much time, energy and resource into a battle that will be lost and that is dragging the name of Christ through the mud in the process. Our opposition to same-sex marriage, coming on top of the terrible child sex abuse scandals that have marked the churches, is leaving many people convinced that we are not the great defenders of the weak and vulnerable but their oppressors. With so many things we could take a public stand upon why on earth are we making this our Waterloo?

Why I hope they’ll teach the safe schools curriculum in my son’s school

The safe schools program has become the centre of a storm of controversy, so yesterday I decided to check it out for myself. I spent some time reading through the curriculum guide designed for students in years seven and eight. “All of us” consists of 8 lesson plans, with each lesson revolving around a video clip in which a young person tells of their experience of alternate sexuality, an interactive exercise to help students build empathy for those of different sexualities, and a discussion guide. The alternate sexualities discussed are: homosexuality; bisexuality; transgender; and intersex.

At no stage did the curriculum try to tell young people what form their sexuality should take. Rather, the curriculum’s focus is on understanding the experience of others. It does assume that:

  1. Gender cannot be equated with biological sex. Gender is used to describe our perceptions of what it means to be “masculine” or “feminine”. For example, when I was growing up it was common to say that women were more emotional than men and that men were more assertive than women. The curriculum quite correctly I think assumes that these are not actually imperatives of our sex but are social constructs of gender. Understood this way the curriculum is able to speak not simply of those who are feminine or masculine, but those who choose not to identify with any of the broader cultural perceptions of masculinity and femininity but would describe themselves as some form of gender neutral.
  2. Our schools are composed of children with diverse sexualities and that every student should respect the other, even those who sexuality is different to their own. That diverse sexualities exist seems to me to be an incontrovertible truth. Some people are same-sex oriented, some are bisexually oriented, some are transgender (“an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned to them at birth.”) and some are intersex (“people who are born with natural variations in genital, chromosomal or other physical characteristics that differ from stereotypical ideas about what it means to be female or male”). And if that is the case then yes I want my children to be part of a school community that respects rather than marginalises, vilifies, or bullies kids because of their sexuality.

I understand why this is challenging for many adults. I grew up in an era when we imagined sexuality in very simple and binary terms. I never dreamt of thinking of gender and biological sex as distinct from one another, and while I was aware of homosexuality, it was generally regarded as a choice a person made. Transgender and intersex sexualities were not even on my radar. A man was a man, a woman was a woman, and homosexuals were “poofters” to be mocked and pilloried. Yet homosexual, bisexual, transgender and intersex kids existed, but they learned to remain in the shadows, fearful of exposure, convinced there was something wrong with them, and with an extraordinarily high suicide rate. I for one am thankful my kids generation are not being condemned to repeat the ignorant and bigoted ways of my generation.

Since I was a kid, evangelical Christians have made a long journey on this issue as well. It’s standard now amongst evangelical Bible scholars to argue that the Bible’s concern is with sexual behaviour not sexual orientation. As far back as the early 90s a conservative evangelical leader such as John Stott could write that

“we all have a particular sexual orientation. The American zoologist Alfred C Kinsey’s famous investigation into human sexuality led him to place every human being somewhere on a spectrum from 0 (and exclusively heterosexual bias, attracted only to the opposite sex) to 6 (an exclusively homosexual bias, attracted only to the same sex…). In between these poles Dr Kinsey placed varying degrees of bisexuality, referring to people whose sexual orientation is either dual or indeterminate or fluctuating… We have grown accustomed to distinguish between homosexual orientation or “inversion” (for which people are not responsible) and homosexual physical practices “for which they are”. The importance of this distinction goes beyond the attribution of responsibility to the attribution of guilt. We may not blame people for what they are, though we may for what they do. And in every discussion about homosexuality we must be rigorous in differentiating between this “being” and “doing”, that is between a person’s identity and activity, sexual preference and sexual practice, Constitution and conduct.” (Issues Facing Christians Today, third edition page 336-338)

The debate has moved a long way since Stott wrote, but his essential point that being and doing are two different things should allow even the most conservative evangelical to support the notion that there are diverse experiences of sexuality and that we must recognise these and shower one another with grace and welcome. As far as I can see that’s all the safe schools program is doing.

Of course, the safe schools discussion occurs within a society in which it is assumed that not only are there diverse experiences of sexuality, but that people should be free to embrace sexual behaviours that give expression to their sexual identity and orientation. This is also assumed within the safe schools curriculum. And that is where many evangelical Christians will struggle. But if we are to have a discussion about accepting one another, in today’s society it is always going to be in the context of a community ethos that is at odds with traditional Christianity. This should not mean we avoid the discussion.  It is a discussion we must have and that our kids must have. School playgrounds can be the most cruel places on the planet and kids who are same-sex oriented, bisexually oriented, transgender or intersex should not be made to feel that their humanity is diminished, that they are unwelcome or unsafe. From what I saw, the year 7 to 8 safe schools curriculum at least, opens up the discussion around this and does so quite brilliantly.

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